J. M. Barrie Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

James Matthew Barrie was of humble origins, the seventh of the eight surviving children of David Barrie, a Scottish weaver. Barrie’s mother, Margaret Ogilvy, was a strict Puritan, reared in the fundamentalist beliefs of the Auld Lichts (Old Lights), a sect of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The unusual strength of the influence she exerted over Barrie throughout his life was detrimental to him in many ways. When he was six, his older brother David, aged nearly fourteen and his mother’s favorite, died after a skating accident. Margaret Ogilvy was desolate in her loss, and the young James made a conscious effort to become a substitute for David, to help her overcome her grief. This was the beginning of the sharp division for Barrie between home, where he was acting out a fantasy in his most intimate relationship, and the outside, real world.

Barrie entered Dumfries Academy in 1873, and while there he began to be interested in all aspects of the theater. He was a founding member of a school dramatic society and left school intent on becoming a writer. Family opposition was strong, however, and reluctantly he entered Edinburgh University, graduating in 1882. During his years as an undergraduate, he wrote as a freelance drama critic for the Edinburgh Courant. After an unsuccessful year spent in Edinburgh researching a book on the early satirical poetry of Great Britain, he answered an advertisement for a job as leader-writer for the Nottingham Journal. Editorial supervision was virtually nonexistent, and Barrie wrote extensively for the paper under a variety of names. He began sending articles to London, undaunted by frequent rejections.

In 1884, Barrie returned to Scotland, where he wrote up his mother’s childhood memories. “An Auld Licht Community” was published in the St. James’s Gazette, and the editor requested more in the same vein, which Barrie found easy to provide. The following year, he decided that to make a career of writing he would have to be in London, so he moved south. He managed to sell articles steadily and before long was making a respectable living. His first successful book, a collection of Scottish articles, Auld Licht Idylls, appeared in 1888; together with A Window in Thrums...

(The entire section is 933 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Matthew Barrie was born at Kirriemuir, Scotland, on May 9, 1860, into the family of a poor Scottish weaver. He would one day make his native village famous as the fictional village of Thrums. Despite their poverty, David Barrie and his wife, born Margaret Ogilvy, gave their children all the education they could. The father worked long hours at his loom, so the mother was much closer to their children, particularly in the case of James. It was largely through the influence of his mother that James Barrie became a man of culture and letters, but her influence also made him a sentimentalist and something of a snob.

Barrie’s schooling was acquired in many places, including several schools operated by his brother, A. O. Barrie, himself famous in the British educational world. By dint of hard work, James Barrie graduated from Edinburgh University and took his M.A. in 1882; his university record was undistinguished. Early in 1883, Barrie applied successfully by mail for a job as a writer on the staff of the Nottingham Journal. As a journalist, Barrie turned out thousands of words weekly on many subjects, although none of his writing for the newspapers was remotely of literary quality. His first literary effort to be published was an article entitled “An Auld Licht Community,” in the London St. James Gazette, in 1884. This article was written at his parents’ home, shortly after Barrie had lost his job in Nottingham. Several other “Auld Licht” sketches followed and were published, launching Barrie’s literary career. Filled with enthusiasm, Barrie moved to London, despite the fact that Frederick Greenwood, editor of the St. James Gazette, discouraged the change.

Once in London, Barrie began to write in earnest, and Better Dead, a book based on his experience as a journalist, was published. The following year saw three books which cemented the author’s popularity: Auld Licht Idylls, a sentimental collection about life in Kirriemuir; When a Man’s Single, a novel about life as a journalist; and An Edinburgh Eleven, sketches of famous men of that city. A Window in Thrums was highly popular, but its very success was a mixed blessing for Barrie: It identified him as the leader of the Kailyard School. The term, a derogatory one, was applied by critics to authors who wrote sentimental, humorous fiction about Scottish life, using dialect and ignoring anything which might...

(The entire section is 1009 words.)